Scrappy. Tenacious. Persistent. Warm. Caring. These are just a few of the words that can be used to describe Ernie Rumsby, President of Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council or TC-MAC. Originally from Detroit, Ernie cut his teeth on the mean streets of the motor city during the 1960s: a tumultuous time for the country at large. After spending several years in the Army, Ernie separated from the services and found his way down to South Florida where he worked as a representative for labor unions. Many years later, and after crossing paths with one too many corrupt bosses; Rumsby was ready for a change. “I knew several former law enforcement officers who had been friends of mine and they had retired to the area. They said to me, ‘Ernie, come here and you’ll fall in love. Try the place out and just visit.’ So I came for a visit and ended up staying. It’s the best move I’ve ever made.” Upon his arrival in the Tri-Cities, Ernie set about getting involved in local Veteran’s Affairs: a cause dear to his heart.
“The Veteran Community has had to face so many challenges over the years. These guys and gals put their lives on the line for us, and our freedoms, and then get back home and are largely forgotten about. A lot of these folks have no voice and little representation, but TC-MAC has changed that.” Ernie Rumsby has worked in Veteran’s Affairs for the last two decades, in several different capacities, so he has been able to see the challenges face by Veteran’s on many different levels. A chance meeting with the Captain running the US Army Recruiting Command in Johnson City led to the creation of TC-MAC and the start of an organization that only continues to grow in its capacity to assist Veteran’s of all services and needs.
TC-MAC is fashioned after the East Tennessee Military Affairs Council based out of Knoxville, but one of the first challenges Rumsby’s new organization faced was the small footprint of military units in this area. “We decided to involve the business community in what we were doing. Jobs were badly needed for Veteran’s so we focused on providing services that would help these Veteran’s find jobs.” One of the first people Ernie went to for advice and counsel was Retired Marine Colonel Miles Burdine, CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. “Miles loved the idea of an organization that would help Veteran’s with things like finding jobs and he gave us his blessing. He offered his help in any way. Miles is a stand-up guy. Pretty soon the Johnson City and Bristol Chambers were on board too and we were really on the move.” With their 501c3 designation, TC-MAC was soon partnering with Veteran’s all over the Tri-Cities area to face the many challenges unique to being a Veteran. “We help with things like paying light bills, paying rent, funeral costs, getting vets groceries, and tackling homelessness. Our mission statement allows us a lot of leeway and freedom to help different Veteran’s with their individual situations.”
The people of the region that he has called home for over ten years now, Ernie insists, have helped TC-MAC numerous times along the way. “This is, by far, the best place I have ever lived. The people in this region are so quick to step up and help anyone else in need. Our organization has been blessed many times over by the willingness of others to step in and offer a helping hand.” Ernie Rumsby has been humbled on multiple occasions in his years with TC-MAC. “When we help someone, I mean truly help them by providing a better quality of life, we can help to remove their sense of helplessness. When a person comes to us and we’re their last resort and we can help to turn things around for them, take away their stress, or even save their life: there’s no better feeling in the world. We are able to show them that people do care and that makes all the difference sometimes.” When asked about changes he wants to see for the area, Ernie is quick to mention more business and, of course, more Veteran’s and young families as well. “People want choices and the region is offering choices, but it needs to offer more in order to attract more families and Veteran’s. Modernizing some aspects would help, but in the end, we need to work hard to create jobs so that the Tri-Cities is a destination: a place for people to settle and stay.”
Ernie Rumsby can be tough and he is the type of guy who will work hard for solutions to get what he wants, but selfish is a word that should never be used in referring to this man. Everything he does is for others and never for his own benefit or glory. His honesty is refreshing in a world where so many are willing to take advantage of or skew the facts for personal gain. “This type of service takes a lot of passion, but the benefits of helping someone else, and not expecting anything in return, is deeply fulfilling. We are truly making a difference in people’s lives. That never gets old.” Of course Ernie Rumsby, despite his gregarious nature and never-ending energy, could not accomplish any of what he does simply on his own. “Goodness no! I have so many people to thank, Miles Burdine for standing there with us early on and Sam Jones, who has been a brother to me through all of this, are just two people who come to mind. I want to thank my past and present board members for all of the many challenges that they faced with me. You guys have all made a difference!” Rumsby left our interview with a strong call to arms for everyone in the Tri-Cities area. “I want to issue a challenge to the entire community. TC-MAC is involved in Wreaths Across America every year and our goal is to make sure that every single Veteran’s grave at Moutain Home is covered so please visit TC-MAC.org to fill out an application and help us reach that goal!”